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What is Kayaking

Kayaks have been described as “those smart little, tight little, slight little, light little, thin little, slim little crafts”. The sight of a kayaker going through a rapid will definitely make its Eskimo inventor (who designed such a vessel for hunting seals) turn in his icy grave! Alternately known as paddling, kayaking involves travelling on water using a kayak, a narrow boat manoeuvred by a double-blade paddle. A kayak somewhat resembles a fishing boat, and usually comes fitted with a covered deck. There are two forms of kayaking – whitewater kayaking, where the paddler negotiates rapids and waterfalls, and ocean kayaking, where the kayak is piloted in open water or on a lake. Whitewater kayaking requires a great degree of skill (and is a lot more exciting than rafting, to boot).
Kayaks are available in solo or tandem (for one or more persons), and are famed for their manoeuvrability, accessibility, adaptability and versatility; there is no waterway that these splendid “little” boats cannot negotiate. Kayaking, truly, is a delight, a more laid- back activity than rafting.

History of Kayaking

The kayak is the invention of the Inuit people of the Arctic region, who used it for hunting. The first kayaks were powered by single-bladed paddles, and the Eskimos used them to hunt seals (kayak literally means ‘hunter’s boat’). Kayaking as a sport, and especially as a recreational activity, owes its origins to a certain John MacGregor. In 1845, this Scotsman, a barrister (and also an explorer and artist), designed a kayak based on drawings of the narrow boat used by the Eskimos, and called it the Rob Roy (this had a two-bladed paddle). MacGregor kayaked all around Europe, in rivers and on lakes, and wrote a book about his experiences, ‘A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe’. It was a bestseller, one which got many hooked on to paddling.
MacGregor would later go on to establish the Royal Canoe Club (1866) with fellow kayak enthusiasts; the club organized a regatta in 1873, the first competitive kayaking event. Kayaking became an Olympic discipline in the Berlin Games (1936). Over time, kayak clubs started springing up all around Europe as the popularity of sport took off.

Kayaking in India

Though kayaking has slowly gained popularity among the adventure community, it is still an activity that’s outside the mainstream in India. It remains a limited recreational activity, a niche rather than competitive sport. Nevertheless, kayaking is more popular around the southern metropolis of Bangalore, particularly on the weekends; there are trips organized on the Kali (in Dandeli town), Kaveri and Narmada rivers. For the views, little beats a kayaking trip in Goa – along the coast, on the river (Mandovi, Zuari) or in the backwaters. The tranquil backwaters of Kerala are also a lure for the kayaking enthusiast.
In the north, the rivers in the Himalayan region were made for kayaking. There are trips in and around Rishikesh, on the Ganges, but also on the Alaknanda, Mandakini and Yamuna rivers. Further up, in bone-chilling and inhospitable Zanskar, summer expeditions are organized amid stunning scenery, on the Zanskar and Indus rivers, as well as on the Tsarap Chu (a tributary of the Zanskar). Also recommended is a kayaking expedition out east to Arunachal Pradesh, on the mighty Brahmaputra, or on the Subansari (a tributary of the Brahmaputra), and on the Rangit and Teesta rivers in Sikkim (make Darjeeling your base for a kayaking trip on the Teesta). Meanwhile, if you’re interested in sea kayaking, head to the coast of Kerala.


Kayak and paddle; lifejacket/PFD (personal flotation device), wet suit, dry suit, spray skirt (with shock cords), helmet

Best season in India

At different times of the year, depending on the destination – October/November to May in the north (except in Zanskar, where kayaking trips are organized from July to September) and east, through the year in the south and Goa (except during the monsoons)

Kayaking sites in India

North – Uttarakhand (Ganges, Alaknanda, Mandakini, Tons, Bhagirathi), Himachal
Pradesh (Beas), Jammu and Kashmir (Zanskar, Indus)
South – Karnataka (Kali, Kaveri, Narmada), Kerala (backwaters)
West – Goa (Mandovi, Zuari)
East – Arunachal Pradesh (Brahmaputra, Subansari), Sikkim (Rangit, Teesta)


See Guide to an Activity – RAFTING

Medical concerns

Kayaking isn’t as strenuous an activity as rafting but if you have a previous medical condition, mention it to the instructor/guide, and remember to bring the necessary prescribed medication along with you.

Ecological concerns

In India, rivers are considered sacred. So when kayaking, do remember to keep your surrounds – rivers, mangroves, backwaters, even the smallest waterways, and beaches – clean. Leave them as you found them (better still, cleaner than you found them). And if you see any litter or debris in the water or on the shore, do collect and dispose of as best as you can.

Where to go

Lakshadweep Lakshadweep Coorg Coorg

When to go

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Ideal Conditions

  • Preferably placid conditions overhead

What to wear

Kayak and paddle
Lifejacket/PFD (personal flotation device)
Wet suit
Dry suit
Spray skirt (with shock cords)

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